Saturday, June 19 – Tuesday, June 22, 2010
So our first charter flight from Jo’burg was a 19/20 seat plane. Pretty small, but overall it was a comfortable 1 hr flight. Once we landed at the Sabi Sand airstrip, we had to catch another flight over to the Djuma airstrip. If the first flight was small, this flight was miniscule! It was a 4 seat airplane. It was more like a glider than plane! After the short 5 min flight, we landed on what appeared to be more sand than concrete. This was interesting to say the least! A jeep picked us up at the end of the runway. No buildings or air traffic control here! Our tracker “Lots” picked us up and told us the Djuma Vuyatela lodge was 15 min away. The open air jeep ride was nice with the sun out and wind blowing. Once we got to the lodge, we were checked in and grabbed a quick lunch out on the deck near the “shebeen”. “Shebeen” is a gathering place for meals in South Africa. Outside the deck is an open field and watering hole with no fence other than an electric fence to keep out the bigger animals that could destroy the lodge (aka rhino and elephant). Our first game drive was only about 30-40 min away at 4:00pm so we went to our cottage which happened to be #1. A short walk from the deck and we were there. We had a great view of the watering hole and saw a few animals walk right up to it while we were there. The room was very nice. Just outside our cottage was an outdoor shower. The animals can walk right up to it?!? The next day when we showered there were impala and baboons outside the shower about 40-50 yards so we both guarded each other while taking showers! A unique and first time experience showering outdoors with wild animals near by. On our first game drive, our guide and driver was Texan and our tracker was Lots. The open air jeep has 3 rows of seats that can hold about 9 people total comfortably. There was a group of English fans on our first two drives (Sat night and Sun morning). 3 guys and a girl. The next day an Australian dad (Tony) and his son (Nick) joined us. We took about 4 game drives together with the Australians who were from Melbourne. All our rides were incredible. We saw all the big 5 (lions, leopards, buffalo, elephant, and rhinos) and a good bit more including giraffe, zebra, hippos, baboons, monkeys, bush baby, spring bok, water bok, kudu, warthog, and hyena. Seeing these animals up close and personal is incredible. There were so many highlights I hope I can remember them. One morning, we drove straight into the middle of the buffalo herd. That was a little bit scary to say the least. They just went around us without much fuss. Some of them looked a little agitated at the jeep though! Probably the most incredible thing that happened was on Sunday night. The drive starts at about 4:00pm and goes until around 7:00pm. It gets dark around 6:15pm at Djuma currently. While on the way back from the drive, we spotted hyena (about 4-5 of them) for the first time on the road. We chased them into a field to get a better view and take a few pictures. Once they kept going, we stopped and went back to the lodge to get ready for dinner. We were quite close to the lodge at this point when we spotted them. The field leads right to the lodge near the watering hole. Once we got back to the cabin, we heard a loud noise. Was that a lion we had just heard? We weren’t sure. We started hearing other ruckus as well which turned out to be the baboons. Your not allowed to leave your cottage in the dark without a djuma employee to come escort you to the deck, etc…Once our escort came to get us, we asked what that noise was. He said it’s a lion kind of jokingly so we still weren’t quite sure what to think. He said he would show us. Once we got up to the deck, there was a group of employees and guests looking at a tree about 50 yards from the lodge and the deck out in the field. The pointed the flashlight up into the tree and said look there. Sure enough, there was a lion in the tree with the 4-5 hyenas on the ground waiting for him. Now to give you a little background, this male lion we had spotted earlier in the day or on Sat night limping. His foot was injured, possibly something in his paw so the hyenas were taking their chances. They had literally run the lion up the tree. I can’t describe how insane this looked seeing a pretty big lion up in a pretty tall tree. All you could see with the flashlight was his eyes and silhouette, but you could see him up there no doubt. You could also see the hyenas lurking below. The baboons were making all the noise as a warning that there were predators around. It was wild to say the least. We ate dinner and watched the Brazil/Ivory Coast game before going off to bed. A few times that night we kept hearing the baboons, the lion, and who knows what else. I think the baboons woke me up 2 or 3 times the first few hours we were asleep. You had this sense that a wild animal was going to fly right by our cottage or even worse in the middle of the night. It made for an exciting night on safari though. Texan claimed he had never seen something like that in his 18 years of being on the game reserves so we truly saw a once in a lifetime event!!! So when we woke up on Monday morning, we thought for sure the lion would be killed outside by the tree, but we were told the lion had waited it out and was no longer in the tree and they speculated he got away. One of the first things we found on the morning drive Monday would almost top Sunday night’s craziness. We found the limping male lion. After viewing him up close for 5-10 minutes, he wandered off across the road and into the woods when I spotted something climbing into the tree about 50 – 60 yards down in the bush. So Texan drove down there as we were getting close, they said it’s a leopard. Our injured male lion that had previously spent hours in a tree trying to stay alive had now just run a leopard up a tree!!!! Unbelievable. We literally pulled right under the small branches this leopard was hanging on while the lion stole the leopard’s kill on the ground and started eating it. It was pretty wild we had seen this whole event unfold from the moment we saw the hyenas the night before. I recommend everybody and anybody to go on a safari once in their live. It’s pretty surreal and relaxing also. At the lodge there was a bunch of different nationality’s visiting due to the World Cup. There were guests from Argentina, Mexico, Australia, England, Paraguay, and the US that we met at the lodge. The employee’s are super friendly. While on the trip, we went to 2 villages near the Djuma reserve. A few of the employees are from the surrounding village outside the gates of Djuma. Djuma invests in food for the kids and have built a few schools in the village. Now this was also and eye opening experience. The villages are poorest of the poor and out in the middle of nowhere. It took about 20 min to get to the village from the lodge. Lots drove us around and showed us a good bit. They just built a clinic in the town for the villagers so they don’t have to take a long taxi ride to the current local clinic. We got a tour of the clinic and went into Texan’s house. His wife let us come into her living room which was tiny but had a TV and DVD/Music player. You got the sense that not too many houses have TV’s etc… It reminded me of Jamaica or St Lucia in how most of the villagers are super poor etc… It definitely makes you thankful for what we have in the US. All the children were outside playing or helping the adults with chores,etc…Every little child was so excited to see us driving by. All of them would come running toward the jeep saying “hello”…and waving. They all had such character to them. It was cool to see. After 6 game drives and 3 nights Djuma it was time to fly back to Jo’burg. This time we were on a 12 seater and our Federal Air charter left straight from the Djuma airfield. This time the flight had a total of 2 passengers (Kat and I) back to Jo’burg. It took 1 hr and 40 min. Once back at the airport we took a new Gautrain from the airport to Sandton where our new friends George, Ollie and John picked us up again to take us back to our cottage. At the time we got back, South Africa was playing France and winning. All the S. African’s were super excited at what was taking place. Unfortunately, they won 2-1, but it wasn’t enough to progress to the 2nd round. Once back to our cottage, we went to Sugo again for pizza and enjoyed watching the last 2 games of the night before we finally went to bed and got some rest from our safari. (i.e. we got to sleep in for the first time since last Friday). For the morning game drives, they woke us up at 6am every morning…Not our favorite!